Gene Krizek has tried to retire three times; all three times he has failed. What he has not failed at is creating a charitable organization that serves American Indians, working poor, indigent in Africa and people who need affordable housing.
As Christian Relief Services celebrates its 20th anniversary, Krizek looks back on an unplanned journey.
Krizek worked as a congressional administrative assistant and retired from the Foreign Service as an officer. In 1960, he worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
When Kennedy was elected, Krizek served as the director of White House Liaison with the State Department from 1961-1962. He was the State Department congressional relations director from 1962 to 1981. That was the first time he tried to retire; however he was called in to serve as advisor to the Assistant Secretaries of State for Consular Affairs, for Humanitarian Affairs and for Refugees.
In 1975, he received a Presidential commendation for coordinating the Indo-Chinese Refugee Act; this aided hundreds of thousands of people overseas. He was active in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a colonel. He served as consultant director of development for Georgetown University’s Center for Immigration and Refugee Assistance; he worked on humanitarian relief programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Not only did his professional life touch the lives of many, but he also found time to volunteer. He and his wife, Adeline "Addy" Krizek, were active with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He served on the Board of Directors and was the founding director of the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation.
HE WAS SO INVOLVED, that he was asked to contact Abe Pollin to see if he would make the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation the beneficiary of the National Hockey League’s All Star Black-Tie event.
Pollin agreed, but only if Krizek would agree to chair the event. He acquiesced and by the time he was done, he had signed up Bob Hope and Rich Little as headliners and Larry King as the master of ceremonies. The 1984 event raised over $100,000.
The groundwork was laid, and as Krizek’s son, Paul Krizek said, “The moral of the story is that he realized he could create his own charitable company.”
In fact, Mike Gretschel, a friend from the Market Development Group advertising agency, who put the program together, said, “With your experience, you could start a humanitarian effort. With your credibility and experiences you would do well.”
Another project that would point him in the same direction was when the Jesuits at Georgetown University asked him to help with the distribution of the money raised by the Band Aid/Live Aid concert; a concert initiated in the 1980s to raise money for the millions of people affected by the drought in Ethiopia that brought in more than $250 million. The problem was that the group had no distribution plan. Krizek joined a team from the Judicial Department, State Department, World Bank and other agencies to evaluate all the proposals that came in. The groups rank-ordered the requests and awarded accordingly.
“They raised the money and we helped them spend it wisely,” Krizek said. “That was an experience I wanted to take into private life.”
WITH THAT, Krizek opened a small office in Georgetown and created the Christian Relief Services Charities (CRSC). He would continue to provide aid to the poor in Ethiopia and other countries, but would also expand his efforts to help others. CRSC now has 16 affiliates aiding those in need all over the world.
A serendipitous meeting led him to Joe American Horse, president of the Indian Council. Krizek was asked to come out to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest areas in the country.
“I wanted to help and live with the people to learn what their needs were,” Krizek said.
After spending some time on the reservation, he asked American Horse, “What can we do for you?”
American Horse thought that was a novel approach; for years the white man had come in telling the Indians what they thought they needed. Here was an opportunity to ask for help.
“Our most important problem is water,” American Horse said.
Krizek put together a team to drill the first well. Another chance meeting at Tip O’Neill’s St. Patrick’s party led him to Jan Mansfield. She was an engineer and agreed to design water wells with windmills to power them. Not only did they have very little water, but they didn’t have much electricity.
CRSC built 26 wells that year, and Paul Krizek said, “Each year we build more water wells. We have over 350 now.”
To further help the Indian people, they try to employ natives. The Indian manufacturer who builds the wells donates every 13th well.
“The unemployment is 85 percent. We use Indian workers to help with unemployment,” said Paul Krizek. “It’s not about handouts, it’s about people helping themselves.”
Not only are the reservations getting new wells, but they are no longer being bypassed by the pipelines that formerly went to the large farms in the area.
“As a result of our raising money and educating, the pipeline by the government now includes the reservations,” said Paul Krizek.
Now that the wells are in place, CRSC is helping to plant gardens.
“It’s an excellent program—it provides the Indians with an opportunity to raise their own food,” said Paul Krizek.
ANOTHER SERENDIPITOUS moment would occur when Krizek watched the Disney film, "Running Brave." A movie based on the life of Billy Mills, an orphaned American Indian, Oglala Lakota, who won the 1964 Olympic games 10,000 meters, by running in borrowed shoes. He set an Olympic record and is still the only American to ever win the event.
Krizek wanted to meet him because they needed a spokesperson. The result was the formation of a new group called American Indian Youth Running Strong. Krizek said that it is the largest of their 16 affiliate charities. They are currently taking reservations for the 2005 Indian Reservation Tour. The tour guides visitors through an Indian reservation. For more information, visit www.indianyouth.org.
“This has been a real success,” said Paul Krizek. “When we first went to Pine Ridge, we didn’t know that it would be an annual event.”
Paul Krizek said that they have three affiliates that work in "Indian country:" American Indian Youth Running Strong, The Cheyenne River Youth Project and Christian Relief Services.
The first has Billy Mills as its spokesperson and has the many self-help programs throughout Indian country and is sponsoring the 16th Annual tour to Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River in September. They are also looking for Marine Corps Marathon runners for its Running Strong team.
The second is a local charity on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota (www.lakotayouth.org) with a local board made up of its tribal members. A major project is the construction of a $4 million teen center with an internet cafe and basketball court. It is scheduled to be completed by next year.
Christian Relief Services, is international but runs food delivery and food banks on many Indian Reservations. (www.christianrelief.org) Christian Relief Services also provides food in Africa and supports the efforts of American missionaries and local volunteers in their relief and development efforts with in-kind materials like tools and medical equipment.
WHEN KRIZEK first started CRSC, he had a Lanier word processor and a desk. It was himself and Addy on the board. Now the board is over a dozen strong. CRSC employs 153 people around the world. Forty of them work at the office on Huntington Avenue, where the company has been housed for the past year. Prior to that, they occupied space in Lorton and on Richmond Highway.
Krizek’s sons, Bryan and Neil are involved in the organization. Bryan Krizek is in charge of the Affordable Housing-CRSC Residential affiliate. This organization works with local agencies — UCM, New Hope and Good Shepherd Housing to provide their clients with affordable housing in the area. Neil Krizek, who is a former Alexandria deputy, works with the computer systems. Paul Krizek is general counsel for the organizations, but is also executive director for Christian Relief Services and raises money for all the affiliates.
To celebrate the anniversary, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va. 8th) entered a statement in the Congressional Record in appreciation of Christian Relief Services on their 20th Anniversary.